Backbeat: Light Artist Chris Levine Breaks Down Antony's 'Swanlights' NYC Spectacle
Backbeat: Light Artist Chris Levine Breaks Down Antony's 'Swanlights' NYC Spectacle

Antony performs "Swanlights" at Radio City Music Hall. (Photo: Angela Cranford/MSG Photos)

On Thursday night (Jan. 26), Antony Hegarty of Antony & The Johnsons unveiled "Swanlights," an operating, awe-inspiring one-time performance piece presented in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Antony and the 60-piece New York Symphony Orchestra performed selections from his four studio albums while a suspended crystalline sculpture hung over the experimental pop singer's head and laser lights danced around his body. When the curtains finally closed on the 90-minute performance, the sold-out Radio City crowd - which included Tilda Swinton, Alan Cumming and frequent Antony collaborator Bjork - blasted the theater with thunderous applause.

On Friday, U.K. light artist Chris Levine, who was commissioned to help develop "Swanlights" after working with Antony in 2009 on his "The Crying Light" performance piece at the Manchester International Festival, spoke to about arranging the intricate show and what he tried to accomplish with this piece. Levine sees the performance as a watershed moment for the baroque singer: "Antony went into that as a star, and left a superstar," he says.

Billboard: What kind of feedback have you gotten on the show?

I've heard directly from the museum, from people like Glenn Lowry, the Director. It was a really electric feeling afterwards. People witnessed something -- something I think people will be talking about for a long time. For me it's a good platform to show my work: I'm trying to take light into new realms, so the collaboration with Antony is a great platform for me to put some original work out there. The response last night is good affirmation that we're doing something that people are really responding to.

When did you sign on to the Radio City show?

I got involved when putting together the project in Manchester at the time, in 2009. Last summer we did a few shows in Europe, developing it a bit further, and in essence what we showed last night was to a great extent what we showed in Manchester in 2009 -- obviously we developed it…it's been an evolutionary kind of process -- but the main essence of it we showed in 2009.


I think the story, his message, and developing the work artistically, is just helping him make a more penetrative statement with what he's doing. A lot of it has been scaled up since Manchester. I got the opportunity to use a lot more lasers than I used in Manchester, and you know I could use more again. That's what I'm hoping. When one thing leads to another, you get the opportunity to scale up and to intensify the experience. Compared to other places like the Festival in Manchester in the summer, it is a very different scenario working at Radio City.

There were so many moving pieces to the show last night, from the set to the lighting to the music. How did your aspect, the lighting, come together?

It's a kind of dialogue between myself and Antony, and how which types of feelings of light were appropriate for different tracks. I've worked with lights as a medium, and there's very much a spiritual dimension to what I'm doing. Light is fundamental to a major existence. The mechanics of light get us close to understanding the nature of reality. I think the beauty with laser is that it's given man the opportunity to observe light in its purest form…With Antony and his sensitivity to nature and the recognition that nature's not something that's apart from us, that we are nature, it's like we're coming at the same thing from different angles. With my understanding of light, applying it to his to sound, and sound and vision working together in that sensibility…it kind of penetrates quite deeply.

Was it difficult to pull off such a massive one-time performance at Radio City Music Hall?

We installed it yesterday morning, went through the whole thing, and it's a real challenge. We just kind of did it, and then that's it. It's a real difficult way to work, but that's the reality of that kind of production. Having done seven shows last summer together, we got to see if things were really working, getting feedback from people and the audience, so kind of evolving it with time. I think we'll be doing a lot more together and that it's just the beginning. I think there's a real chemistry working.

So you see yourself working with Antony in this kind of scope in the future?

I can't say too much about what's planned -- there's a whole future ahead, but I think we've got some serious work to do together. I think that is drawing audiences to Antony's message and what a lot of the music is about is really important. To me, artistically, it's completely in line with where I'm coming from.